One of the most incredible things about the journey of life is how often it takes you full circle. I mean, we’ve all been there: running into the past in some form is not highly… More
There is a word in the German language that, until recently, I couldn’t quite define. More of a multifaceted feeling than a tangible element, Ausstrahlung can be defined quite beautifully and accurately by Roald Dahl’s astute definition.
This is both my favorite word as well as my favorite feeling. It is the “qua”, the something, that is undefinable yet unmistakable. It is the light, the radiance, that shines out from within. And that, my friends, is true beauty.
It is perpetually remarkable to me how the passage of time knows no slowness; yesterday, there was snow on the ground, and many of us were wishing for a new beginning and a better year in 2017. Today, it is summertime in the Windy City, and half of 2017 has run its course. And I sit here and think, “Well, that went fast.”
In another life, perhaps, I would be on the tail-end of my Euro-Excursion; the three week trip I planned last December that would’ve started me in Berlin to visit good friends, seen me through a solo trip to Scotland, and ended in Greece, basking or burning on the shores of the Aegean in the company of a dear friend. Thanks to my new job, the trip was not one I could take, but I can’t find any remorse because I am incredibly happy and grateful to be where I am. I know that, in the big picture, there will be other opportunities for travel. Right now, though, I have to take advantage of other opportunities as they present themselves.
This weekend, for example, has been one of a lot of light and a lot of love. Friday evening was the finale to a year of mentoring an incredible young woman from Lebanon. I took her to a sushi dinner, we went shopping, and ended the evening with a pile of custard to eat. What is most remarkable about my time with her is that, though she is sixteen years old, she has the wisdom and grace that most adults strive to find. I am continually astounded by her astute remarks and beliefs about life. In fact, if I were ever to have a daughter, I would hope that she would turn out to be like this girl: a beautiful and enlightened, intuitive and gracious student of the world. It moved me deep within when she expressed how much I had helped her during her year on exchange, and that my advice had had the power to tweak her perspective. All I could ever desire is having the ability to reach someone with my words. And, apparently, I had done just that. Wow, such an honor. What she maybe didn’t realize, though, was how much she had helped me during the last year. It was symbiotic really; I mentored her, and she most certainly did the same for me. And I cannot thank the universe enough for sending her into my life. I will miss her physical presence terribly, but I am tremendously grateful to have had the time to share with her and look forward to staying connected in the future.
As I went into Saturday, I was rather wary and unsure about where the day would take me. I was jointly attending my son’s preschool picnic with my ex, and time with him is truthfully never an occasion I look very much forward to. However, I was determined to spend as much time as possible getting to know the other parents and building new relationships with like-minded people. Et viola, that is exactly what I did. Though he was present and part of some of the conversations, I focused my energy on putting my best face forward, fully embracing the moments in which I could potentially make a new friend, or learn something from the other parents. It went better than I ever could have expected, and I walked away from the gathering with a sense of hope and gratitude for the exchanges that I had been able to be a part of.
Thirty minutes later, I was parallel parking in front of a cute building on a quiet street in Pilsen, Chicago. One of my best friends had recently moved into an apartment there, and I was going to see it for the first time. As the breeze sailed in through the windows of her charming and spacious apartment, we sat on the couch and talked about life and all its facets, while sipping a cold beer. I mean, honestly, does it get any better than that? An Uber ride later and we were on the North Side, pushing through the garden gate of a friend of hers to drink more beer and socialize while the sounds and smells of Division Fest provided entertainment on the other side of the fence. For the second time that day, I felt extremely welcome by the other attendees, and I was able to meet a lot of really awesome people. The motif of the day, I realized, was that meeting new people and having meaningful exchanges bring incredible value to a day, hour, or moment.
As we walked through the festival, hanging on to each other so we wouldn’t be swallowed and separated by the crowd, I found myself smiling at strangers and they smiled in return. I noticed in detail the smells from the food vendors, and picked up on tidbits of conversation as we passed by other groups of festival-goers. It was incredible to be so present in the moment.
While in the line for Döner Kebap and curry fries (where I also found Club Mate!), we mused about the quandaries presented when dating a total stranger. It was a group conversation of both men and women, and it was as funny as it was informative to trade ideas and stories about such things with others who were seeking the same things as we were: namely, food, companionship, a laugh, advice, and connection with other humans.
Back at hers, after the sun had set, we sat on the back deck and drank red wine mixed with soda. The antennae of the Willis Tower glowed in the near distance, and we continued our more private conversations from earlier in the day. It was still remarkably perfect weather, and we were able to lose track of time as we laughed, conversed, and listened to music. Though it was late and I had been up early, the powerful feeling of rejuvenation prevailed, eliminating the feeling of exhaustion that seems to be present quite often on weeknights.
Times like these show me how incredibly fortunate I am. I am very much aware that my life is nowhere near perfect, and there are many instances that cause me stress overload where I need to remind myself to take a few deep breaths in order to save the situation. However, there are also so many beautiful moments that are so full of happiness and light, that hanging on to the energy from these is powerful enough to keep me afloat during the times when I feel like the dark rabbit hole is threatening to pull me back in. Sometimes, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a healthy mind, other times, letting go and being effortless is all I need to do.
As time goes on, though, I make a habit of reminding myself that there are so many reasons to be happy. Even if a day sees plenty of blockers, there is at least one moment that can be flooded with happiness or gratitude. And that one, single, solitary, moment makes all the difference.
From a distance, they looked like two lovers on holiday. They breakfasted on the veranda together, held hands as they strolled along the beach, and when they looked at each other, well, then it seemed set in stone. It wasn’t just desire in their eyes; it was a deep and intense understanding and admiration of the other. It was only in the moments when they were alone, preparing themselves for bed or the start of a new day that the small elephant sat back down in the corner of the room. Marius would watch Mira combing out her hair after a shower and longed to slip the towel from its precarious position above her breasts. But he didn’t. He still wasn’t sure if that would be what she wanted, too. And she would watch him slide his body into a t-shirt and a pair of pants, admiring the musculature that vanished beneath the cloth. She liked the careful yet carefree way he tidied his hair and face each morning, and found nothing imperfect about his physique. But they both felt as if they were dancing in a dream, and at anytime, the song would end. The perfect blue of the ocean, the caressing warmth of the early spring, and the endless supply of food and drink seemed to perpetuate the illusion. The question was simple if not terribly impossible to answer: where should they go from here? Both of them felt that, at this age, they should know how to answer, and therefore both kept their lips sealed tightly shut.
“When we get back to Berlin, do you think you’ll stay?” He asked one night as they sat on the balcony. Her head rested on his chest and he held her close. She raised her head and looked back at him. “Of course you’ll travel for your writing, but will you stay, with me?” He asked, very quietly, fearing the possibilities of her response. She laid her head back down and he exhaled. “I’d be rather happy to stay with you,” she answered slowly. He waited for more but nothing else came. All that was left to fill the silence were the crashing waves washing over the nearby shore.
When they arrived back in Berlin, they stood in the living room of Marius’ apartment; Mira looked down at her phone, Marius looked at her, waiting. Finally, she looked up. “Do you think I should send my stuff up from London then?” she asked. He thought he caught an anxious look in her eyes. “I think that’s a great idea, yes,” he replied simply, hoping she would relax. She nodded once. “Right. I’ll get on with it then.”
While she telephoned with a shipping service, Marius prepared a tray of snacks complete with a bottle of sparkling Rose. He set it all gently down on the coffee table and began flicking through his work email account which had been abandoned for five days while they had been in Spain. He poured himself a glass of wine and busied himself with drinking industriously and scrolling systematically. “It’ll arrive tomorrow afternoon,” she said, bringing him back from cyber land. “That’s great news. I’ll make space in the closet for you,” he said, smiling over at her.
“Erm, yea, or I could I just, you know, stuff it all in the guest bedroom closet.”
“Mira, I’m happy to make all the space you need. Don’t you want to share space with me?”
She felt a bit ridiculous and began to blush. “I, yes, I do. I just, well. I don’t exactly fucking know how to really. It just feels so odd to…move into your flat again. Obviously it’s not the same one as before. But, still.”
“Alright. Fair enough. I understand. But, this time, we’re much older and much wiser. And hopefully you won’t leave me for the beauty of Switzerland or anywhere else.” He took her hand gently and smiled. She leaned her forehead against his, breathing deeply. He smelled wonderful. Comforting. “I can’t believe this Marius. Sometimes I still just can’t. I mean, what if it really should be Lila here all along?” she murmured, speaking to the floor.
“Mira, I didn’t leave Lila because we didn’t make a good match. We did. But I’ve loved you since I told you the first time a million years ago. After awhile I didn’t realize it anymore, but it was always there.”
She was quiet, examining the lines on the palms of her hands, before laughing a little. “I’m too old for this shit,” she commented, looking up to meet his eyes with hers. He smiled and squeezed her hand.
She took up a book and he seated himself at the piano, beginning to plunk around, tinkering with a new melody. As usual when he played, she found herself unable to concentrate on anything else but the music lofting from the mechanism that was the grand piano. She looked round the spacious room and frowned slightly. She would need to mark out a place of her own; somewhere where she could spread out and do some proper work. She couldn’t imagine sharing a workspace with Marius. In fact, it was difficult for her to get her head around the concept of sharing any type of space with anyone after so many years of solitary accommodation. But, the longer she sat, taking in the music as it filled every molecule in the room with the purest sound, she realized that there was likely no better atmosphere to share with another human. This peace, this comfort; she would remain as long as it did. For surely, she thought, this would be a wonderful soundtrack to write to everyday. Surely, indeed.
“I’m sorry Lila, I was afraid. I was just fucking afraid.” “I already know that Marius. Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I really wish I could.”
Lila snorted and shook her head, a cloud of smoke circling her head from the cigarette.
“It was a shitty thing to do. From both of you.”
“I know. Believe me, I feel just as terrible as Mira does.”
“You should.” She took another drag and flicked the ash from the end. “I already know its over Marius. So don’t think you’re going to let me down easy.”
“I’ve never thought you a fool Lila, and I didn’t come to make excuses for my behavior. I just needed to face you when I said that I am truly sorry that I hurt you. I did love you, you know. And I still do care for you very much.”
“I wish you didn’t Marius. And I wish I didn’t feel the same.”
He reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. She looked down at the floor, then slowly into his eyes.
“Take care Lila. I wish you all the very best. Wirklich.”
She nodded once, solemnly, and he stood up, his eyes lingering on the divine creature sitting there at the bistro table, blonde hair spilling across her shoulder like fresh tears on a cheek. She afforded him the curtesy of the last image being one of her completely pulled together before he turned away and wandered out of the restaurant. After that, she drank her wine in silence, thinking of nothing.
As she unlocked her bike, feeling the affects of the wine take root in her brain, her vision blurred as her conscious and sub-conscious cracked together, breaking forth in a violent storm of tears and sobs, wracking her so much that she nearly had to abandon her bike at the post where it was chained and take the walk of shame home; a one woman parade of melancholy.
Die Emotionen Von Menschen spiegeln die Laune der Natur wider. “Human emotion reflects that of nature.” Something Marius had said a long time ago, almost in another life. Looking out over the sun and surf of the Atlantic Ocean, I pondered the truth of such an expression and found it to be accurate. “Don’t tell me you keep a flat in London for the wonderful weather,” he had snorted, upon seeing the puzzlement expressed by my knitted brows after he had first said it. “Don’t you notice how dreary people’s moods are when the weather is rainy and bad?” he asked, a smile playing at the corners of his lips. In fact I did notice. But I was never actually in any one place long enough to take matters of climate and weather patterns to heart. I was still mulling over the truth of his words when he mentioned to me that he would not mind visiting England again, he would like to see my mother again. “You tick very well together,” she had said back then. That was the only phrase resembling a compliment that my mother had given me regarding any relationship I had had. Ever.
My computer lay open on the table behind me, the black screen reflecting the palm leaves spread out like a canopy above. What would I write today? How would I be able to explain myself in written words? Would I slip back in time, using nostalgia to come to grips with reality? Or, would I write an anecdote about the prawns I had eaten for lunch and leave the rest to bask in the Spanish sun? A gentle wind blew a sweep of hair across my face; a sea breeze, the winds of change for a sailor. I squinted against the sun which had already began dipping itself into the glossy, glinting depths of the endless ocean. Somewhere behind me, I heard gentle piano music float through the heavy salty air. “Mira,” the voice softly said. “Will you come?” I turned from my perch and slid into the shadows of the interior. The music had grown stronger, now with strings and guitar to accompany the piano’s notes. It told a story, and I as I listened, I realized the story was somehow familiar. “This is wonderful,” I murmured, lost in the timing, the melody, each synchronized harmony. “I wrote it for you,” he said, as softly as if the words belonged to the composition.
For the first time since I had arrived in Berlin, I wept.
“Love is a Natural Disaster.” That is what my ex-boyfriend had always said. In fact, it was the title of the collection of paintings and mixed media projects he had completed. He was not only an artist who had housed his work in my gallery for the better part of six months, but also one of the greatest egoists I had met in a long time. But I was in the mood, so I let his flair for the melodramatic take up space in my gallery, my time and emotions, and, after too much wine and too many speeches about why living with me would produce the greatest work of his career, I let him take up residence in my flat as well.
After the six-month rental contract for the gallery space expired, I asked him very cordially if he could please get the fuck out of my apartment as well. He knew it was coming. But of course, he wasn’t going to go without a soliloquy about how I was making a huge mistake and so on, during which I just continued to make myself a Käsebrot. He flourished his hands through the air as he packed his painting materials, stuffing metal and other bits of material scraps into canvas bags as he reminded me for the fortieth time how inconsiderate I was being. I wish I could’ve cared, could’ve pinched some emotion back into myself, but I had become calloused to his existence since the day he began leaving bits of his long hair in the shower drain. Egotistical is one thing, sloppy is quite another.
“Love is a Natural Disaster.” Marius disagreed with this description entirely. He quipped that it may end in disaster, but on the whole, everything happens just as it may and more as it should. He was both philosopher and realist, and I found that juxtaposition suited me very well. More importantly, he was at the helm of an ever-expanding music empire, and had little to no time for pointless Quatsch. He understood my clipped and clean way of life, and admired me for it I think. The wheels of the days turned, and we found ourselves able to co-exist in a pleasant, romantic manner. We didn’t need to argue about work, schedules, or bills. He was fine with keeping separate residences, and we both certainly made enough money to keep up a certain stamina. Of course if I’m being perfectly honest, I enjoyed the prestige of his good-looks, social graces, and appreciation for a different form of art than the one he knew so intimately. He was always gracious about my necessity to mingle and go about my business, sometimes alone, and for that I respected him more than anything else. Actually, for my standards, I loved him more than I had ever loved anyone else previously.
“Love is a Natural Disaster.” Mira chuckled a little at the imagery, but I suspected she thought it could be a fitting analogy. Ever since I had seen her at the table across from Marius that first night when she made her prodigal return to Berlin, I myself hadn’t been able to shake the notion. They looked so incredibly oblivious to the world around them, so undeniably devoted to their precious time together, that, rather than joining them at the table, I found myself observing from a remote place at the bar where I sipped a vodka tonic so I could have a moment to get my head together. I ordered a second one when, the more I watched, I realized that this was the end of our world as we had known it. There was going to be a fucking natural disaster of seismic proportions, and nothing would be standing where it had been at the end.
Because I somehow like to torture myself, I refused to immediately address my speculations with Marius. I went through each day cataloging ever glance, every smile, every fucking nuance that went between them, and then I wondered angrily why I couldn’t sleep at night. Finally, when I told Marius what I thought, he managed the audacity to brush it off. This pushed me to such a precarious edge of my sanity that I even began comparing myself to her, making mental checklists of all things I had that she didn’t and vice versa. That nonsense stopped when I threw my empty tumbler at one of the stone walls of the gallery one night after having too many pity drinks. Three centimeters to the left and I would’ve ruined one of the artist’s paintings.
I’d be fucked if this shit would ruin life as I knew it.
The next day, I invited Mira for a girl’s day. The day after, we spent the entire morning and afternoon together. During the time we went about shopping and brunching, I had managed to compartmentalize the ties that held her to Marius. Over coffee at a fairly empty cafe, the callous had grown over the wound, and I no longer felt compelled to hold back the honesty of the situation; Marius was choosing her over me, and it was time that she became confronted with this disaster.
She stared at me; I don’t know if it was out of shock or because she was scandalized by my boldness, but I couldn’t give a fuck. She tried, depressingly lamely, to tell me that they were only friends from the past. And I told her to fuck off. I didn’t even bother explaining to her that I had seen my long-term partner abandon whatever it was that he had felt for me and go running, tripping all over himself, back to the flesh embodiment of his past. With reckless abandon, I yanked the lock from my bike, swung my leg over the metal bar, and rode off, hoping to never see her sorry fucking soul ever again.
I avoided glancing at the clock as if it were something horribly grotesque. Instead, I tried to keep my eyes focused on the emails I was writing, and the datebook I had propped open on my lap that I was now updating in pencil. Still, there was no avoiding it. 00:00. It had come at last. My thirty-second birthday. Verfickte Scheisse. I scowled at the ticking clock and pushed the datebook from my lap. Crossing my arms across my chest, I folded over onto my knees and wondered why in hell anyone would want to embrace something so utterly shitty as a birthday. No, this wasn’t just because I knew I was in the process of getting dumped. I had always hated my birthday. Ok, that’s probably not true—I guess I liked it when I was small. But as soon as the teenaged years came, I avoided that shit like it was a nasty virus. One year I even forbade my friends to acknowledge it. “Let me just pay for dinner and the rest of you shut the fuck up already,” I had said sharply. I was twenty-six. They had left it at that. I looked up to the blinking black cursor against the white background and cringed. Then, because I knew I would be an absolute lost cause if I didn’t, I picked up my phone and called a friend. A half hour later, I was walking out in six-inch heels and a cocktail dress, ready to start this new year; single as fuck, and grudgingly willing to dance on it.
The morning, or afternoon I should say, of my birthday, I woke up to the sweet smell of male sweat and damp sheets. I heard the sink running from down the hall and rose to drape a loose-fitting dress over my otherwise naked body. The guy who had come home with me for casual sex ended up taking me to a non-birthday brunch, as he had called it, and ended the afternoon by telling me the Vollidiot that was dumping me really wasn’t a legitimate human being. I wished more than anything that I could agree with him. He left me with a small kiss on the cheek and his phone number scrawled on an old Aldi receipt.
I had been able to do it, and I wondered at it as well as praised myself for it. Casual sex was back on the menu. Shit, at my age, I had no time to waste. The fact is, I am a woman who does have casual sex. I see no problem with getting my fill, and since I was for all purposes single, why the fuck not? It was by no means my first kick at the ball. And I realized, after the handsome brunch partner had left, that this suited me. It could get lonely, but it suited me. Now, I just wanted Marius to face his cowardice so we could put this tragedy behind us. This fucking natural disaster.
I awoke, discombobulated and otherwise confused. Lulled to sleep by the perpetual hum of voices and airplane noises around me, I had fallen asleep before we had even pulled away from the gate. I don’t know what it is, but something about traveling by plane, and the leading up to it, brings me to such a height of boredom and exhaustion that all I can do is close my eyes and slip away. This time, I didn’t even bother with headphones; my last night in New York City had robbed me of enough sleep to make the need easy to fill. I glanced around, blinking. The woman sitting to my left certainly wasn’t the guy that had been sitting there when I had fallen asleep. I straightened up and smoothed my pants a little, placing the bowler hat onto my knee. I cleared my throat slightly, wishing for nothing more than a glass of water. I allowed myself a glance in my seat mate’s direction again and decided that I was lucky to have a pretty young woman to share the cramped quarters of the airplane with. I looked out the window, hoping to muster up something clever to say. She was reading, but fuck it, maybe she was up for talking. “You’re not the guy that was sitting her before,” I said, smiling. “No, he opted to be next to his family,” she replied, looking up. I asked her how long we had been flying; she replied about three hours. I smiled at her again. “I’m sorry, you’re reading. I didn’t mean to disturb you.” And then, she smiled at me, and I was suddenly very much wide awake.
She didn’t seem like the type of girl who needed anyone to show her around a strange city. Still, I offered, and to my luck, she called me the next morning, asking if I would spare some time for a tour. I picked her up from the five star hotel where she was staying and took her to brunch. After that, I showed her around the neighborhood where I was living. Though it wasn’t much yet, anyone could see that it would be something very soon. With her sharp eye, I realized she would not have a problem recognizing potential. I brought her to the studio. My partners eyed her with looks of approval, and threw me smirks behind her back. Luckily, her German was rudimental enough so that she did not understand their bawdy remarks. They thought she was an easy fling, and thereby the perfect woman. I thought she was the most electrifying, inspiring thing that could’ve dropped into my life at the moment, and I already was shaping her up to be my finest muse in my subconscious. I took her back to my apartment, a modest one-bedroom, and cooked her spaghetti bolognese, serving a bottle of wine costing a whole seven Euro, which happened to be the most expensive one I kept in-house. Afterwards, I served her beer from a plastic bottle, hiding this fact by pouring it into a pint glass, and we sat on the mini-balcony, talking and smoking. She spent the night in my bed, and the next morning I kissed her over coffee and croissants.
On the day she was meant to fly away from Berlin, and out of my life, we found ourselves sprawled naked on the living room rug, surrounded by wine bottles and take-away pizza boxes. After hours of much debate and many tears, we had decided that she would stay with me and we would see what we could make of this. I had been forewarned that she would continue to travel, and I had promised her I would be working long days at the studio. Both seemed like fair compromises to make. I realized I finally had a reason to come home again after work.
She had some boxes from her place in London delivered, and asked me very nicely if she could please hang some artwork on the walls. When I came home, the place had been marked with the artful touch of someone who knew how very little it took to turn a space into a home. From where I was standing, both literally and figuratively, everything looked very promising. I wouldn’t expose myself to her yet, but I knew that I was already in love with her.
If I were to dig deep enough inside myself, and rifle through the part of my memory that housed the things I refused to think of, I suppose I could conjure up the day that she left for Switzerland. All I can readily say is that the weather matched my emotions precisely; it was rainy, cold, and otherwise dour and shitty. The year preceding it had been one of long-distance video calls and lonely nights. I accused her of traveling too much, and she told me I was both working and drinking too much. All of it was true. And instead of putting things into perspective and working them out, we both chose to cling to our careers that had placed us on an upward trajectory faster than either of us could’ve anticipated. Her technological devices had become her constant companions, while I spent most of my time with strangers who handed me contracts and film manuscripts. I had become the composer I had always wanted to be, and she was by now a well-known writer. With all of that to sleep with, it seemed we no longer needed each other. And although I couldn’t actually believe how fucking stubborn I was being, I would never admit to her that I was rotting on the inside without her.
And then, she disappeared. Into the mist, into a train car, into the milieu of another country, and most certainly eventually into the arms of another man.
If I had been a workaholic before, I became a machine that required neither sleep nor food, and ran mostly on alcohol and unbridled passion for the success of my music. For months after she had gone, I couldn’t bare to be alone in the apartment. Some nights, I even slept on the couch in the studio. I was perpetuating a schedule that involved early mornings, long days, and too many drinks with my colleagues who also kept the same, single schedule as I did.
Eventually though, I slipped back into being human again, and found my apartment to be solace from the otherwise turbid world outside. Mira and I kept up no correspondence, but it was not difficult for me to keep tabs on her life. I would sometimes, rather often actually, find myself scrolling through her blog, staring in awe as pictures of her face, her body, the scenery of beautiful places rolled across the screen. I never left any trace of being there, fearing that she may have an adverse reaction should I leave a comment. Of course this was ridiculous; not only because, by that time she had millions of followers, but also because we hadn’t parted with any bad blood between us to speak of.
After too many glasses of wine one night, at least five years since I had last seen her in person, and shortly after I had moved into a newly renovated loft, I found myself glued to the large-screened computer in my office, ogling the divine perfection of her bikini-clad body as she frolicked about in photos of Sardinia, parts of me beginning to stir and rise that had no business doing so. The blood rushed to my head as I moved down the page, discovering the men with which she had spent time recently. I felt myself becoming belligerently jealous, and swiped a pile of papers angrily from my desk in one fluid flurry of rage. Fuming, I sat back in my chair and wiped my face. Chalking it up to too much wine, I shut the computer down and trudged to my bedroom, falling into a sweat-soaked sleep, and awakening feeling like I had been run down by a city street car.
Thereafter, I disallowed myself from getting involved with her online empire. I mean, at some point I needed to move on. Moving into my new place was a great start, and now I needed to keep going that direction. I was otherwise comfortably adjusted to life in my mid-thirties; I owned a considerably fashionable piece of property in the same neighborhood that I had first lived in when I came to study in Berlin almost eleven years ago. Both my business and my personal music career were thriving, and I had become a known personality on several radio stations, and a sought-after guest speaker for courses at the university. No longer forced to buy beer in plastic bottles, I now bought an assortment of German brews and imports, as well as very expensive bottles of wine to impress the guests I was hosting on a weekly basis.
Finally, I was starting to feel at home again in my own life, happy-hearted with all that I had and become.
It was at a Friday night dinner party hosted at my place where I met Lila; a lovely, if not a little brusque art galley director who had come with one of the musicians we were currently contracting with. She was thin, very tall, with minor swells to mark breasts, hips, and ass. The red dress she wore flowed loosely around her toned frame, and her blonde hair covered everything the dress did not—until she swept it into a loose ponytail after we opened the sixth bottle of Sekt post-dinner. Her cheeks had taken the rosy coloration of one who has drunk plenty of wine, and I couldn’t help but give most of my attention to her, eventually breaking away from the rest of the group for a smoke break on the balcony.
“Nice place,” she commented, gesturing to the glass windows separating us from the living room. I lit the end of her cigarette. “Thank you,” I replied, smiling.
“I can’t believe this neighborhood. It’s really made something of itself, eh?” she mused, looking out over the tops of the surrounding buildings. I nodded. She wasn’t the most easy individual to converse with, but she always, I found, knew exactly what she wanted and knew how to speak her mind, and that is what I found most desirable about her.
We eased into a relationship at about the same speed two glaciers in the Arctic move toward each other, eventually meeting in the middle with a gentle bump of acknowledgement. We saw very little of each other at first because of our incredibly opposite schedules. While I worked during the day and into the evenings, most of her events started at night, making her unavailable for dinner or even a drink somewhere. Usually I would hang around the gallery, nursing a glass of whatever the artist had chosen to serve, grabbing bits of conversation with her where I could before heading home and tucking myself in for the night. It gave us little chance to grow tired of each other, and since we didn’t live together, seeing each other remained something of a novelty.
As time went on, she came to me each night, offering me the comforts of her body, and when she didn’t, I missed her and wondered why she had chosen to go home. Occasionally, I would spend the night at her apartment one neighborhood over from mine. She lived above the gallery, and I could never figure out how she managed to ever distance herself from her work. But that was part of her bravado: compartmentalizing and effortlessly fine-tuning her attentions with precision. We went on like this for years; happy, satisfied, sometimes argumentative and out of touch, but in love enough to move through life in unison.
“I got an email from Mira,” I told Lila over a rushed breakfast one morning. She paused with stirring her tea to raise a skeptical, perfectly-crafted eyebrow at me. “Oh really? Is she coming to Berlin?” she replied, resuming her stirring. I wiped my mouth. “Yea, she is,” was all I said, waiting for the precarious silence to pass. She knew all about Mira, for Mira was a part of my life I could never keep secret. “Looking forward to meeting her,” she said, pushing back from the table. “I must go. I’m late already.” She kissed my hair briefly before flinging a scarf around her neck and slipping into her trench coat. “See you later,” she said before pulling on a pair of rain boots and heading out into the downpour. I sat in silence, mulling over the potential situations that could arise. But nothing, absolutely and most certainly nothing came to mind other than the child-like excitement that rose up every time I imagined seeing Mira again after all these years.
I felt like a canary in a cage as I waited at the restaurant designated to be our meeting spot. I was early in the hopes of snagging a good table big enough for three. I had already sipped my way through a vodka tonic, and my nerves were only slightly calmed. I noticed how I kept wiping my palms on the thigh of my jeans.
When I saw her, my brain went dead for a second, and then the banging and clanging and fireworks display of nerve synapses began. And I wondered directly thereafter if inviting Lila to join us had been a mistake. There was no time to ponder it, Mira had landed in my arms, and it felt like she had never even left them at all. “My God, you look wonderful,” I said, stepping back to admire the silhouette she presented me with in a black fitted dress as she slipped out of a red wool coat. “You look well yourself,” she replied, smiling. “The shorter hair suits you,” she added. I laughed. “Well, I’m not nearly as young as I used to be,” I said, giving her a smile. She laid her hands on the table, leaning in slightly. “Its so good to see you Marius. Thanks for meeting me.” Something in the way her mouth turned up at the corner, the crinkles near her eyes danced, and how her eyes spoke made me shift in my chair. In my pants, things we stirring as well and I cleared my throat. “You know I’m always glad to see you Mira.”
Lila arrived an hour later, joining us for after-dinner drinks. I was grateful for her treatment of Mira; I had feared she may treat her with cold detachment, but was sighing internally with relief when she slipped into the art of casual conversation with her right away. Mira was the type of person that nearly everyone could feel comfortable with. As beautiful as she was, women could not speak a word against her, out of jealousy or anything else, because she simply glowed with good-will and kindness. This, it seemed, had also put any of Lila’s concerns to rest.
I didn’t realize that I had been holding my breath for so long until I sighed a gust of wind in relief when Mira told us that she would stay in Berlin awhile. “Would you mind if I asked Mira to stay here?” I asked Lila one night as we prepared dinner. She continued her chopping of the onions. “No,” she replied simply. I studied the side of her face, looking for signs that may offer contradiction to her answer. I found none. As I went to bed that night, I was convinced that she was truly okay with it; she had never made time for go-around games in which she wouldn’t say exactly what she meant to. As I closed my eyes and waited for sleep to come, I imagined what it would be like to co-habit with someone who, even after all these years, brought me the same abundance of happiness.
Things between Lila and me were silently falling apart. She knew something I didn’t; something I wouldn’t admit aloud to the question that she never asked. She fucking knew, but waited for me to confront myself with the truth: that I was in love with my past. The past who had become the present. And who I wanted to be the future as well. When Mira came back to the loft one evening after her day out with Lila, I wasn’t at all surprised to hear that Lila had told her off about our relationship. Not that there was anything more than a friendship. But Lila had finally had enough, and went first to Mira to accost her because of my feelings. I was still uncertain that the feelings I had were actually mutual. But I understood why Lila had decided to come clean—she feared I would never move on from the limbo I had placed myself in, would never decide to chose one over the other, and if I did choose Lila, that I would never stop loving Mira. She had outed my cowardice, and now I felt as if I were naked on stage at the opera house.
“I feel horrible about all this,” Mira said, her face just as downcast as her eyes. I started at the sound of her voice which had snapped me out of focus for the composition I had been going over. “You have no reason for that,” I replied, feeling my own sense of guilt creep slowly back in. “I dunno, I mean, if I had never come to Berlin, you guys would’ve gone on happily. I feel like I’ve absolutely desecrated the sense of peace your lives had.” She sighed and flipped the page of the magazine she had open on her lap. “That is nonsense, Mira. Maybe we would’ve stayed together, but it would have been less of a love than what I feel for you.” She looked over at me and I could tell this was really weighing on her. I moved from my chair to crouch down in front of where she was perched on the edge of the couch. “These things happen, Mira. Who fucking knows why, but its certainly not the end of the world. Its a beginning. Lila will move on. She is still beautiful and brilliant and highly desirable. There wouldn’t be a thing you or I could do to change any of that.” She maintained eye contact with me as I spoke softly to her, trying my best to give her comfort in her grief. She had been careful to avoid any physical contact with me. Only once had she let me hold her hand while we stood on the balcony and I smoked my last cigarette for the day. And once she had laid her head on my shoulder while we rested on the couch. Mostly though, she still felt as if I were not hers to touch. Not until I spoke with Lila.
For a monochromatic loving gal, these shoes take me right out of my comfort zone. But, for the first time in awhile, I feel excited about putting on a pair of heels. And let’s be real: when you’re wearing heels almost daily, it’s a major plus to enjoy the day in them, as opposed to feeling like you’re strapped to two death traps. (We ladies have all been there!)
I’m excited to hit the streets in these! They deserve a great outfit to compliment them, so stay tuned for what comes next! It’s not cliche to say that great things can happen when wearing a great pair of shoes, is it?
“Well, this is all bollocksed up,” I muttered to the burnt slice of bread peeking out from the silver top of the toaster. I stood in a pair of his clean knickers that I had nabbed from the laundry basket on his bed and a black tank top, puzzling over how to rid the smell of burnt toast from the apartment. It was almost alarming how comfortable, and moreover at home, I suddenly felt. Before I could make a move, I heard the lock turn and the door open. “Oh fuck, burnt toast. My favorite,” he said, coming into the kitchen and giving me a smile. “I know,” I replied, grimacing. “Sorry for the smell.” I walked over to the balcony door and gave it a pull; the glass slid open easily with a rumble along the track. “Are those my shorts?” he asked as I came back into the kitchen. “Erm, ya, sorry,” I said, shrugging awkwardly. He smiled, relaxed as always. “It’s ok. They look good on you.” He reached for a bag of what I knew was bakery contraband. “Thought we’d have a proper breakfast,” he said, bringing the bag to the table and fetching a few plates, knives, and miscellaneous breakfast elements from the fridge. “I thought you’d be in the studio by now,” I remarked, scooping coffee into the french press and setting the kettle to boil. “I was there already. I’ll need to go back.” He checked his watch. “I don’t have much time actually. I didn’t want to work on an empty stomach, though,” he added, winking at me. “Of course,” I replied as we sat down. “And I wanted to see you, of course,” he said, very seriously. I smiled and shrugged a shoulder. We had slept separately last night, but there had been an undeniable gravitational shift to pull us towards any surface we could get into a supine position upon. A lion’s heart had enabled us to resist. That, and the feeling that I would’ve been making love to a man who technically still belonged to the lingering energy of Lila.
I cleared my throat of bread crumbs, sipped a tangy bit of coffee, and wiped at the corners of my mouth. “So, I, uhm, well I’ve been in Berlin for awhile now, and I was thinking I should probably do another travel piece rather soon, and I was going to book a trip, four days I think, to Spain, Costa del Sol, and I thought perhaps, maybe, you’d like to join me?” I offered, reaching defensively for the butter knife and smearing a hefty glob onto the soft white bun. “You know we can go as friends or something,” I added, shaking my head, hoping to make the situation less forward. I had never asked a man to accompany me on a writing trip. Ever. The words sounded more foreign to me than the language I had produced them in. “Mira, I don’t look at you as a friend, and I suppose I never have,” he replied factually. He went on. “I’d very much like to have a holiday. I think I’ve been on two or three since the studio opened. I’ll need to speak with Lila to get this all—settled first, and then I’d be free to join you.” We let that bit about him speaking with Lila sink over us before he spoke again. “Are you sure you want company? I didn’t think you much liked travel companions when you are writing,” he said, a knowing gleam in his eye. Sometimes, I somehow forgot how well he did know me. “Aaahh, yea, that’s still true, but I thought, I dunno, it could be an interesting change,” I replied, laying my palms face up on the table. “Indeed,” he said, cutting into another roll. Indeed.
He departed without ceremony or display of affection. We were in a precarious state of limbo that demanded us respect both Lila and our newly rekindled emotions. A large part of me was wishing that he would come to Spain with me that very weekend, getting things straight with Lila so that we could finally figure ourselves out without that uncomfortable presence hanging about in the background. Another part of me, though, wished him to decline the trip, from which I would then never return, sending my regards via courier who would also collect the rest of my belongings from his apartment and send them on to London while I drowned my sorrow in Tinto de Veranos and the waves of the Atlantic all along the Spanish coast until I made it to the shores of the Mediterranean on the Costa de la Luz. “Oh fuck off,” I told myself, “Give him a chance.” “Its a fucking mistake,” the other side of reason argued. “You’re fast approaching middle age, and now is not the time to fling shit at the wall and see what sticks.” I closed my eyes against the late morning sun flooding the balcony, and tried to focus my attention on the emails I was sending to various editors and employers. Instead, I opened a new tab, punched in the URL of my blog and logged in. After several clicks, I hit ‘post’ on a raging impulse, and uploaded to the homepage was a selfie of Marius and I, taken that very morning on the very place where I was now sitting to bask in the summer sun. We’d see what my readers would think of that. God knew that what the readers wanted, they always ended up getting. One way or another.
And so it came that after nearly twelve years, I felt a calling to return to Berlin. God only knew why. I certainly hadn’t a clue. If the city had been bubbling with life when I had been there before, by now it was bursting at the seams. Prosperity and trendiness marked every corner and window front. The hum had grown louder, the personality of the city stronger.
I waited a few days before contacting him. Marius. Often on my mind but never on my lips, his name and his smile resonated with me since I left him on the platform all those years ago. I debated whether I should write him, but in the end, curiosity won out, and I wrote him a clipped, friendly email asking him if he was still in Berlin. Seeing the words of his response on the digital page a day later gave me just as much excitement as being back in this city. After choosing neutral ground on which to meet upon, I took a deep breath and submerged my head under the metaphorical waters of what I would come to know as unfinished business.
Not the bright-eyed young man I had known, but rather an established, well-kept forty-three year old man stood to greet me at a small table of a bustling restaurant. His eyes and smile, though, remained exactly as they had been. And our easy art of managing conversation made me feel as if it had been a few months, and not over ten years, since we had last had a proper chat.
“Marius?” A woman’s voice from behind. He turned to look and stood up.
“Hello darling.” He gave the woman a quick kiss and helped her out of her jacket. “This is Mira, the friend I was telling you about. Mira, this is Lila, my girlfriend,” he said proudly, looking from her to me and back. We shook hands and sat down. I hadn’t known what I should expect. I did know he had a girlfriend, yet her edgy, fashion-forward style threw me for a loop. Her thick blonde hair pouring over her shoulders and down her back, voluminous and straight, and her perfectly penetrating jewel-toned eyes made her attractiveness undeniable and almost uncanny. She was tall and thin and otherwise intelligent and remarkable and if I hadn’t already finished my first glass of wine, I may have even been a little intimidated by her.
But there we sat, we three. I wondered how much Lila knew about the origins of Marius and I, but in the end found it irrelevant; we were only heading forward in time, never going back.
The bristles on his face that composed the shadow of a beard were a mix of browns, blondes and grays. His hair, now a bit more clipped than it had been back then, was still dark, with the occasional strand of grey falling to light. My hair, on the other hand, had held back on the grey, the first appearing, or becoming noticed, during my three day mini-crisis. So far, it was just the one, hidden under a layer of curls on the back of my head. Proof that nothing stays the same—not even something as simple as hair color.
Feeling welcome by everything, I decided to stay in Berlin. Not having been there in ten years, I allowed myself to think that it was high time for something to be written about the city. Much older than I had been the first time, I found myself in a completely different place—both literally and figuratively. Mostly though, I spent my time with Marius and his colleagues, headphones clapped over my ears listening to the recordings they made, or practicing my rusty German in conversation with them. I would write a feature on them, I decided, and if the editors didn’t like it, I would publish it on my blog.
The neighborhood where the studio was located had become even trendier than it had been ten years ago. With shops, cafes, bistros, and hotels lining the one-way streets, it was a almost only accessible on foot or bicycle. I spent my days drinking coffee at a little blue table in a corner of my new favorite cafe, shopping at the boutiques, and dining with Marius and Lila almost every night.
“How long do you plan to stay in Berlin, Mira?” Lila asked me casually one evening over post-dinner gin and tonics.
“Until I become inspired or coerced to go somewhere else,” I replied, half-joking. She smiled.
“You know you don’t have to stay in a hotel. You can stay at my apartment if you like. It’s not nearly as luxurious, but I promise it’s clean,” Marius offered. I flicked my eyes quickly to Lila, who looked accepting enough.
“That’s a generous offer. Thanks very much,” I replied, smiling.
The next morning, I appeared on his doorstep toting my three bags. He opened the door wearing a pair of fitted grey jeans with a black t-shirt, hair still damp from a shower.
“Come in, come in,” he said, “welcome.” I smiled a thank-you and rolled my luggage over the threshold.
The apartment was an enormous upgrade from what we had shared back in the day. Two spacious and airy bedrooms with private bathrooms attached to each stretched out the length of either side of the open living room. The back wall of the living room was all glass, sliding open to the wide concrete balcony. Above the living room was a loft, his office, set up with a desk with recording equipment and a computer, a violin rested in one corner, a guitar next to it, and an electric keyboard stood against the wall across from the desk. The living room itself was dressed with a grey sofa, a love seat in front of the glass wall, and two matching chairs across from the love seat. In one corner was a a compact bar, and in the other was a baby grand piano. Luxurious was precisely the word to describe the place.
When Lila walked in two hours later, unbeknownst to us, we were sitting together at the piano; I was plinking, he was playing, and we were both singing, an open bottle of Chardonnay and two empty glasses on the table next to us. We both turned around upon hearing the sound of something large and heavy thudding onto the counter in the kitchen.
“Lila?” he called. She came out of the kitchen smiling.
“You guys sound great,” she said lightly, looking from him to me. “I see you’ve opened a nice white to start the day.” She disappeared and came back with a wine glass for herself. She filled the three. “Cheers to you and you,” she said, never taking her green eyes away from mine.
I had been in Berlin for almost four weeks, two weeks longer than I had stayed anywhere since I left Switzerland. I had a budding friendship with Lila, and found myself on a coffee date with her on a warm April Monday. She had asked me to do some shopping with her, and we had spent the morning under the soft lights of the boutiques, each of us toting three full bags by the time we seated ourselves outside a fairly empty cafe for refreshment. We had just finished talking about how she and Marius had met, and she was lighting a cigarette.
“He’s not been very affectionate lately,” she said, turning her head to the left, the cigarette smoke escaping casually from her lips. If I had been paying better attention, I would’ve seen her watching me from the corner of her eye. Instead, I shrugged.
“I dunno. I mean, as a friend, he’s usually a great big hug-giver,” I said, smiling smally into my half-drank coffee, and then at her. She took a calculated drag from her cigarette and stubbed it out in the small white ash tray between us on the table. I waited for her to speak; she looked as if she needed to say something. Instead, she averted her eyes from mine to look at the activity surrounding us on the outdoor terrace. Four o’clock: time for the cafes to fill up with people in search of a nice piece of cake and a coffee to accompany it. This cafe was no exception. I joined her in people-watching, oblivious to her observations of me.
“He’s been different, you know.” Her voice startled me. “Since you got here,” she said. Then, I felt her green eyes boring into my cheek.
“What do you mean,” I asked, cupping my cooled off coffee mug. She was silent, still staring at me.
“He’s in love with you.”
I said nothing but I felt my brows crease together. She huffed a breath of air out through her nose. I noticed my hands, warm and moist against the cool ceramic of the mug. Then I began to shake my head.
“That’s not—really, it’s not like that. He and I, I mean, it was a long time ago, we don’t—he’s not, in love, with me, anymore. We’re just fr—“
“Don’t,” she said, raising her hands, palms facing me. She lowered them slowly, as if she meant to push away the earth beneath us. “Don’t,” she said again firmly, coldly.
I was still shaking my head, frantically almost.
“I knew it, from the first moment I joined you at the restaurant that first evening. I felt like,” she waved her hand and rolled her eyes, “like I was the third wheel, like I had joined an exclusive party of two,” she finished. She rummaged in her purse. As she looked down, her blonde hair fell like a curtain between me and her face.
“I, I don’t know why you think that, really. We, we haven’t seen each other in such a long time,” I reasoned, trying to keep the rock slide from turning into a crushing avalanche.
She made a sound in her throat as she began sprinkling tobacco onto a small paper.
“I hate you for it, you know. Not you as a person, really. But the idea of you. That you could come here after all these years and he just—,” she shrugged, “forgets that there was ever another woman in his life,” she said, rolling the paper carefully shut, bringing it to her lips to be sealed. As she lit the end, I tried to think of something, anything, to say in my defense. I was speechless.
“I don’t think it’s any fault of my own, though,” she went on. “I just, well, it fucking still feels like a betrayal. From both of you,” she said, taking a deep drag and pushing it right back out.
“Lila, I—“ My speech faltered as she pushed angrily back from the table. She stood up quickly, slinging her bag over her shoulder.
“No, Mira, you don’t get to say anything.” She stubbed the cigarette out aggressively and straightened up. “I just need you to fuck off right now, ok? I like you, really, I do. But, just, fuck off.” On that note, she turned from me and walked to where her bike was chained to a light post a few meters away from the cafe’s terrace. She slid a pair of dark sunglasses onto her face, mounted the cycle, and rode away without a backward glance in my direction.
My coffee was empty and I was alone. I flagged the waitress down and asked for a glass of wine, please. While all the others drank their caffeinated hot beverages and over-indulged in sweets, I finished off my glass of wine before asking for the bottle.
Luckily, I had the good sense to cork it and take it with me while it was still a third full. But where was I to go? Back to Marius’s? He and Lila did not live together, but she still might be there, insisting that he throw me out to go back to the boutique hotel I had crawled out of. I decided I would leave, but first I would have to get my belongings.
I arrived back at his building after moseying through the alleys, taking the long way, occasionally taking a pull from the bottle of wine stashed in my bag. My shopping bags bumped against my legs, threatening to trip me and send me on a trajectory that would end in a meet-cute with the ground. I pulled the key from my pocket and let myself in to the hallway before taking the lift up to his floor. I tried to be as inconspicuous as I could when I came in, muffling the sound of the door closing with my body.
“Mira? Is that you?” he called, coming around the corner from the kitchen. Something smelled really good. He was smiling at me. “Did you have a good day? It looks to have been productive,” he said, gesturing to the bags. I remembered to breathe, and then smiled at him.
“It was good, thanks,” I said politely, walking past him to head towards the guest room.
“I’m just preparing dinner. I hope you’re hungry,” he said to my retreating form.
“Let me just, erm, freshen up, and I’ll be out in a jiff,” I replied. I shut the wooden door behind me and found myself in the welcome silence of the sleek bedroom. Before I even realized what I was doing, the clothes were stuffed and rumpled in my suitcase, and I was gathering everything I had in the bathroom and funneling it into a cosmetic bag. I straightened up and glanced at my reflection. “Get a hold of yourself Mira,” it muttered to me. It was right; if nothing else, I had to say a proper good-bye to Marius. I quickly changed my clothes and tentatively stepped out into the living room. He was putting on a record, a bottle of wine stood next to an empty glass. He turned around, bearing a full wine glass and a smile.
I took a deep breath and went for it. No point tiptoeing around it. “Marius, I’m not really sure how to, well, I just had this rather startling conversation with Lila, actually. And she, well, she said that she believes that you, that you, well-oh fuck it, that you’re in love with me,” I said at last. His eyes dropped to the floor.
“I know what she thinks,” he said to the wooden paneling of the floorboards. “She’s been telling me since you arrived in Berlin.”
“And what did you say?” I asked very quietly, feeling a mounting discomfort that I had not ever known before.
“I told her she was out of her mind and left it that,” he said, shrugging. “But you know,” he continued, looking up from the floor and into my eyes, “that Lila is a self-assured woman with exceptional intuition. That’s what attracted me to her initially. And so, after awhile, I realized that she was right.”
My stomach dropped. He poured wine into the second glass and handed it over the space between us. I took it with a gulp.
“Why don’t we eat some dinner? None of this can be solved on an empty stomach,” he suggested, leading me gently toward the kitchen, toward the something that he had cooked for us. For us. Bloody fucking hell. There hadn’t been an “us” in over ten years. I grabbed his arm rather suddenly and he looked back at me in surprise. I let go immediately. “Eh, sorry, I just—do you think we could have a cigarette first?” I asked, wiping my suddenly moist palms on the thin fabric of the dress I had changed into. He smiled and gestured toward the wall of windows, the balcony an open-air piece of relief behind it.
My hands shook as I tried to gently perform the art of creating a hand-rolled cigarette. I knew he was watching me in his nonchalant, unbothered way. Finally, he gently took the crumpled, gossamer rolling paper from me and began crafting me a perfectly executed version, which he handed to me and pulled the lighter from his pocket to offer me use of its flame. I puffed deeply, coughing several times, looking away in embarrassment. For fuck’s sake.
We smoked in silence, watching the Berlin sun drop away to be borrowed by another part of the world. It was still warm, but my arms prickled into gooseflesh every time the gentle wind whispered past. He stubbed the end of his cigarette into one of the flower pots housing robust blooms. I watched him with a calculated amount of reserve, feeling painfully self-conscious while alone in his presence. I thought of the parts of him beneath his clothing I had seen, almost memorized, those years ago and found myself blushing profusely. “Jesus fucking Christ,” I muttered, casting the butt of my cigarette into the same pot. He pushed the door open and we went back indoors. I moved into my bedroom to find a shawl to drape around my shoulders, and when I came back, he was back in the kitchen removing a large pot from the stove. I hoisted myself silently onto a stool and waited patiently for the meal. Instead of offering my help, I poured a generous amount of wine into both of our glasses.
The only sounds were that of cooking and the plating of food, and the swallows of wine slipping down my throat which only I could hear.
While I had been alternating between staring at the dwindling contents of my wine glass and at the fresh manicure I had given myself that morning before shopping, Marius had been laying the table with beautiful things. “Do you want to come and sit down?” he asked me, a certain amount of hope in his eyes. I slid, somewhat unsteadily, from the stool and, clutching my glass, made my way to the place he had set for me across from his at the dining table. The fixture over the table was turned to dim, a handful of tapered candles took over the job of providing light. There was a mass of wildflowers in a vase, and a basket of freshly baked bread beside it. There was a platter of cheese, and a colorful green salad alongside it. The round white plates were artfully arranged with sautéed greens, roasted carrots, asparagus and potatoes, and there was a lush looking cut of beef glazed in a succulent sauce. “I meant to serve in courses, but I thought the meat might overcook,” he explained, gesturing to the elaborate spread. We sat down and he poured me more wine. We ate in silence until I ventured a compliment. “This is delicious. You’ve become an excellent cook. I hope you didn’t do all of this just for me,” I said, smiling. He smiled back. “Actually, I didn’t. I thought Lila would be joining us as well and we would have dinner altogether, but I gather she is otherwise indisposed,” he replied. I focused on cutting my meat, which took very little effort, and said nothing. “Mira,” he said, making me look up from my fascinating plate. He smiled smally. “Cheers.” I wiped my mouth. “Cheers,” I said, raising my glass. They came together with a delicate clink and then were drawn to our lips to have their contents ravaged.
At some point or another, normal speech resumed, and we put a form of temporary amnesia into place in order to avoid the elephant lurking, stomping about, just outside the dining room. As the wine warmed my body and I laid the shawl over back of my chair, I felt my soul warming as well. Warming to what, I could not say exactly. But I knew it was happening. Somewhere, some great mechanism was turning, creaking back to life, bringing us together again. Most importantly, I knew Lila was right; either he loved me very much, or was in love with me. The difference hardly mattered. I was not here to trifle with technicalities. No, I knew why I was here, and it had everything to with what his eyes were saying to mine, and how the now comfortable moments of silence said what words could not.
It was the longest travel day of my life: Sydney to California, California to New York, New York to Berlin. Over thirty hours of flight time, not including layovers. My flight out of New York was delayed due to the rains that had been drowning the state for days, and I sat in the airport, a half a step from brain dead, not knowing what time it was or what day it might be. My fellow delayees and I did our best to sprawl out and make ourselves comfortable at the gate, and by the time a message from the loudspeaker that we would begin boarding in an hour had awoken me, I had gotten a reasonable amount of sleep and no longer felt like dog shit thrown into the bin. I straightened my clothes and headed for the bathroom, wiping at my smudged eyes as I looked at my sleepy reflection in the mirror.
Whenever I felt too hassled or troubled by traveling, I remembered that I had the job most twenty-six year olds would commit murder for. As a writer working for a prestigious travel magazine, I had been given the world on a platter, so to speak. I was paid to galavant across Europe, put up in the best hotels, and supplied with lists of the best places to shop and dine. I kept a small apartment in London, but rarely ever saw its interior. And currently, I was on my way back from a corporate trip in Sydney, Australia, where we staff had been treated to Sydney nightlife, Adelaide wilderness, and Victoria’s beaches. And I hadn’t paid a thing for it. Berlin was my next assignment; a city in Germany that I had not yet explored.
As always when it was time to board, it was also the time to put my thoughts away and get settled in for the next seven hours.
It is a known fact that crying children are never truly welcome on an airplane. Neither are men who insist on sitting with their legs spread wide apart, or individuals who have been too liberal with their fragrance. Unluckily, I was seated in the middle row of the plane, between a mother with a crying toddler and a man doused in cologne. I wondered very briefly if my boss would take pity on me and upgrade me to Business Class if I called and asked him very nicely. Instead, the presumed father of the unhappy child, a trendy New Yorker by the looks of him, leaned across the aisle and asked me if I wouldn’t mind trading seats with him. I glanced over to his row of three seats; sure enough, the guy at the window was slouched, knees apart, with a bowler hat over his face, taking up precisely one and a half seats worth of legroom. Luckily, the middle seat was open. I agreed to the exchange, and arduously moved myself and my belongings to the new location. My seat mate did not stir, and I busied myself with arranging my book, magazines, and tablet in the seat pocket in front of me.
It wasn’t until several hours into the flight that the man stirred, straightened his posture, and pulled the bowler hat off of his face. He stretched a little, looked out the window, and noticed me. “Oh, you’re not the guy that was sitting here before,” he said smiling, nonplussed.
“No, he opted to be next to his family,” I replied, looking up from my reading.
“Have we been flying long?” he asked, peering out the window as if he may get an answer from the blackness.
“About three hours, I think,” I replied, turning the page of my book.
“You’re reading; sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you.” Something in his smile, though, made me want to smile back. And I did.
“No bother,” I said. “Going home?” I asked, somewhat presumptuously.
He nodded. “Yea. Well, Berlin isn’t technically where I’m from, but it’s home for now,” he replied. I nodded, and not knowing what else to say, went back to my book, only pretending to read. He was handsome; nice blue eyes, dark hair, good style…..
“Have you been there before?” he asked. I shook my head. “Nope, this is my first time,” I said, closing my book for good. I was ready to pursue conversation. He seemed like he might have an interesting thing or two to say.
“You’ll like it. It’s a great city. There’s a lot going on. Do you know where you’re staying?”
“Eh, yea, a pace called Das Stue,” I said, rather conscious of my shitty pronunciation.
“Hm, I don’t know that one, but I’m also not very familiar with the hotels in Berlin,” he said, smiling again. “Are you on holiday?”
“No, actually. I write for a travel magazine and Berlin is my next city of discovery,” I said, smiling. It always felt good to answer that question.
“What a great job. You’ll have a ton to write about. Berlin doesn’t disappoint,” he remarked.
“What about you? What do you do?”
“Well, I often ask myself that same question.” He smiled again. “What I’m trying to do is finish my Uni degree in Film Studies, and simultan—, simulta—fuck, what’s the word? Si-mal-tane-e-us-ly, trying to open a studio where I can record film music.” He shook his head.
“That’s really interesting. Is it working out?” I asked.
“It is. Slowly, but it is.”
I smiled. “That’s great.”
We talked. For the rest of the flight, the four hours remaining, we made conversation about you name it. Just as the final ‘beep’ went off to initiate the clicking of all passenger’s seat belts, he said, “I don’t know how weird this is, but if you ever need someone to, you know, take you around the parts of Berlin that not everyone knows of, I would be happy to do it.”
I smiled, squeezed my eyes shut briefly and thanked the gods, before turning to him.
“I think that would be very helpful indeed, can you give me your number?”
And from then on, it was game on.
I spent half of my nights in Berlin in that swanky boutique hotel. The other half, I spent in his one-bedroom apartment located in an up-and-coming neighborhood. He took me out, showed me the sights, brought me to his studio, played me music, and made love to me. Believe it or not, this was not typical of me. Very rarely did I ever make anything past a superficial connection with a man while traveling, and certainly never slept with the ones who bought me drinks.
It was three years, two of which were actually the embodiment of unparalleled happiness, before we finally decided we had to go our separate ways. We had begun to slip into a mutual understanding, a mere friendship that transferred us into the roles of roommates who occasionally slept with each other. When it came to the heart of things, we were both artists; artists who both had careers that had taken flight and recently begun soaring. I was approaching thirty with gusto, never slowing down, not even for a moment. How could I? My writing had, thanks to social media, gone global. I was freelancing and contracting as a stay-on for not only travel magazines, but also fashion and lifestyle publications. In addition, I was glued to my tablet or mobile phone, constantly tweeting or posting about something when I was wasn’t updating my blog, which was making me enough money to live on by then. For his part, he was working long hours, composing, going to meetings, and networking. He had already gotten his foot in the door of the German film industry and had begun reaching companies well outside of Berlin and even Europe. Between his twelve hour days and my erratic travel schedule, we saw next to nothing of each other outside of video chats where we gobbled down some take-away food and talked about the weather.
My mother, every time we would speak on the phone and no matter how briefly, would insist that we were going to start arguing if we didn’t spend more time together, and inevitably one of us would become bitter. As a result, I called her five minutes before I was due to board a flight so as to have a savvy excuse for not being able to listen to her full lecture. In all fairness to my mother, though, she loved him, and he her, and she wanted me to settle down a bit more since I was getting, as she so kindly put it, ‘older’.
On a cold and blustery Fall day, he brought me to the train station where I would catch the nine o’clock train to Geneva and from there, go on to the city of Montreaux. We were both running late and had not much time for a proper adieu. We stood together on the platform, hands clasped, a single tear rolled down my cheek as I watched his eyes well up. He brushed the water away hurriedly with a knuckle. “I’ll call you when I arrive,” I said, trying to smile, trying not to think of the stack of boxes in the foyer of our shared apartment that would be shipped to my flat in London the next day. “Have a nice trip,” he replied, smiling ever so smally.
“I’ll miss you.”
We kissed for a moment, looking and feeling like lovers, but we knew we were saying our last goodbye.
A whole decade passed in which we had little more contact than the occasional and very impersonal social media blip. Ten years is a long time for life to work in its mysterious ways, and the decade went by in a flash. I took up residence in a beautiful, sunlit apartment in a pre-war building standing on the banks of Lake Geneva in the Swiss city of Montreaux, home of a world-renowned jazz festival, and the exact city to which I had traveled when I left Berlin for the last time. I was not residing alone; in fact, I had met a Swiss man who had given me what had remained for me to desire from the world, including the recognition and acceptance of my occasional cultivated bi-sexual preferences. He was in his fifties and aging very well; a banker with a surprisingly docile demeanor. He was also divorced, on friendly terms with his ex, and childless. He liked me for my creative mind and wanderlust tendencies, and I liked him for his good taste and ever-present patience. Together, we made up a team of steadfast comfort and understanding. He was the type to take me on tours of his friend’s vineyards in the mountains, book a spontaneous long weekend for shopping in Paris, meet me for dinner when I was in London, and allow me to treat him to a stay in some fashionable London hotel. I never took him back to my flat because that had become the place of my very own, housing the part of me that never wanted to share, give up, or compromise anything.
Moreover, Montreaux was a stay in paradise. Beautiful during every season, the lake greeted me every morning from outside the bedroom balcony. For three quarters of the year’s days, the light colored wooden floors became silent underfoot, and the spacious living room became a basin of light all day long. Working from home became much more appealing. So appealing, in fact, that I began to leave Switzerland less and less. Instead, I took train trips to Bern, Lucerne, Interlaken, Geneva, or other cities, and occasionally, I would venture over the border into France. Actually, most of the international travel was done in the company of my dear partner. We breakfasted every morning together; he read the paper, while I exercised my fingers scrolling through emails and other alerts. He would head off to work, while I would place myself at the seat of my desk and begin to write something for someone, somewhere, but had mostly turned to blogging full-time.
One magnificently brilliant summer day as I leaned over the railing of the balcony, taking in the panoramic view that I had grown so accustomed too, I realized that I had grown incredibly established in my habits. There was no spontaneity to my day, and weeks went by in a similar fashion and structure. I wondered briefly if that made me happy or morosely depressed. Instead of answering myself, I frowned deeply and went back inside.
That very evening, over freshwater oysters, I broke the news of my discovery very delicately to my companion. I don’t think he was surprised; yet, I did note the sadness in his eyes when he looked up from buttering his bread after I told him I would be leaving. Truthfully, I was sad, too.
The next morning, I embraced him in the foyer one last time before he saw me to the door. While the doorman loaded himself up with my luggage, I took one last look behind me to see him standing there, hands in his pockets, sad smile on his lips, and the balcony doors thrown open to the breeze, the glistening lake winking behind him.
Opening the door to my flat in London, I couldn’t help but wonder if it had been a monstrous mistake to leave Switzerland. I looked around at the coffee table, sofa, and bookshelves, all dusty from months of disuse. I unpacked my things, straightened up, and, all the while tried to sort out the consequences of my actions. For three days, I hid from the world, keeping myself within the confines of my bed, crying over ridiculous movies and devouring tea sandwiches. By the time I knocked a bit of sense back into myself, my friends, family, and followers had all dropped me some kind of line, each sounding more concerned than the one before it.
And that was the end of my self-doubt and regret. I stayed no more than two nights in England before jetting off to the south of Italy, meeting up with friends and making new ones along the way. That first dive into the clear chartreuse waters of the Mediterranean gave me credence and clarity like nothing else could. This was where I was meant to be, and tomorrow it would be somewhere else. The rolling stone had not yet turned into sand.